Monday, April 23, 2012

Cooking with the Sun

One thing about homesteading and living in a tipi is that everyday things that I've always taken for granted suddenly became time consuming tasks. The simplicity of washing dishes after meals became a muscle building exercise that involves hauling a five-gallon bucket of water. The simplest of tasks require foresight and time without the immediacy of electricity, running water, a hot water heater, or full protection from the elements and critters.

I straddle the line between being constantly dirty from living and working outdoors and wanting to look presentable. I love living in a tipi, but I don't want people to know this just by taking a look at me. I don't want to make my presence known by that special earthy odor. (Those mountain fresh dryer sheets don't hold a flame to my version of mountain fresh.) I hated showing up at births smelling like goat or smoke from fires. Simply put, living simply takes time.

I'm always looking for innovative ways to maintain the benefits of a simple, low-impact life-style, living close to the earth, while also improving my functionality and streamlining my day-to-day tasks. At times I feel like my life could turn into one big chore. Is it possible to work so hard to live sustainably that the process itself becomes personally unsustainable? I want to live my truth and simultaneously enjoy the ride.

Fortunately, I have tricks that facilitate my one-straw revolution in-style. With ample sunshine in Colorado, my solar oven is at the top of my eco-goddess list (you get at least three karma points for using one). A solar oven is an insulated box with a piece of glass to hold the heat and reflectors to concentrate solar rays. They are easy enough to make, though I bought mine for about $150. It is durable, transportable (I've brought it with me to work before), and a high quality design. I use it daily when I'm living in the tipi and regularly enough in the winter too. No matter how cold it is outside, if the sun is shining the oven works. Mine usually gets up to 350 degrees and I use it for everything from warming up water for tea, to cooking grains, baking bread, steaming veggies, and, with the help of a pressure cooker, cooking beans.

One great thing about a solar oven is you can't really burn anything with them (and with a tendency to get preoccupied this is a key feature for me!). It is possible, however, to dry meals out to the point of dehydration (sorda like dried fruit!) which requires additional water to reconstitute them back into an edible meal. I typically put a pot of rice (or quinoa, or buckwheat, or amaranth...) in the oven in the morning, leave for the day and come home to warm grain. Cooking time can be comparable to using a stove. If a constant temperature is needed for several hours then you get into the nuances of turning the oven every hour or so to keep the sun shining directly into it.

Solar oven advocates boast of the health benefits and the ecological gains made by using the sun to cook; I love my little oven because I think it's so frickin' dope that the sun cooks my food and because it's a perfect fit with my desire to maintain my outdoor life with simplicity and minimal effort.

Cooking a pot of rice with the last of winter's squash on the deck with Lily.

A Solar cooked meal, greens excluded.

Anna baked her infamous German Chocolate Cake at Kale and Laura's Kick-Off Par-tay this weekend.

Not a solar oven product but the girls made cupcakes for the cast to show their support. Sweeties.

Beautiful flower from Lais.

Marty's shopping bag...good karma points fo' sho'
I ended my 14-day cleanse today. Autumn treated me to a bowl of chocolate ice cream and cabernet sorbet!

This Love is real.


  1. marian have you found the time differences in solar ovens to be significantly longer? or are they at all comprable? sorry if that's a totally ignorant question. i've only observed once, somebody baking a peach pie in it, but that was years ago.


  2. Hi Marian,
    So which solar oven did you purchase and why. Funny, I have been looking at them off & on for a while. And I was looking again just yesterday...

    1. Hi Gita,

      I bought the Global Sun Oven-Solar Cooker from Sun Ovens International. I didn't research things too thoroughly before I bought it mainly because everyone who has solar cookers here owns this model, like Claire and Tony, Tara and Sam, and Dev. Plus, Meg O'Shaughnessy sells this brand, which made things pretty easy :)

      I bet if you wanted to talk to someone about the myriad solar cooker designs, both commercial and DIY you could talk to the SEI crew. Both solar Ed and Matt Harrison are solar cooker aficionados.

      Much love to you sister. m

  3. I'll reply to Kate's question, I generally suggest that you need half again as much time for food to cook. It's really a question of the initial heat-up time. Direct fire is very fast; in the solar cooker a quantity of water, e.g., takes longer to come to a boil in the first place, but once it boils the time is the same. --Tara